Community, Embodiment, Health & Wellness

Shall We Dance?

Last summer, at an Omega Institute creativity workshop with Kate Shela, I fell in love with 5 Rhythms.

But, I had fallen in love with Kate Shela well before that.

To say that 5 Rhythms is a movement practice or that Kate is a 5 Rhythms instructor doesn’t begin to do justice to the deep medicine that she and this practice works. Here’s how she describes herself on her website, kateshela.com:

“Kate is a dynamic shapeshifter and shamanic healer who naturally brings transformational medicine to every dance floor. Known as a catalyst with heart. She drops into the belly of listening and draws out the innate healer in each of us. Kate possesses a bold improvisational style and a passionate sense of humour that enables magic to ooze into the everyday moments. She is a Londoner who lives in LA. Kate has been a teacher for 21 years.”

I ran across her work in 2015 or 2016,  when I was exploring a wide variety of alternative healing modalities for chronic pain and fatigue. In an online summit on the new shamanism, she spoke about embodiment and healing in a way that resonated deep in my bones. I bought the entire package of recordings from that summit just so I could listen to her over and over again.

So, as I was planning last summer’s Heart of America tour, I saw that she was doing this workshop at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. I immediately bought a ticket and began reworking my itinerary to be in upstate New York in June.

I should add here that Kate teaches in Los Angeles. I could have driven the Avion down there and just taken a 5 Rhythms class with her for $20.

And maybe that would have been transformative as well. Certainly a helluva lot cheaper. But I also think a part of me knew that I needed to go through the other parts of the journey before encountering Kate and her special alchemy.

And so I went to Madison first, and then Chicago and Oak Park, and finally Binghamton: all touchstone places in my personal history. Only then was I ready to dance with Kate.

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I had never done 5 Rhythms before that weekend workshop. I had, predictably, read a book about it, Gabrielle Roth’s Sweat Your Prayers, which was tantalizing but in hindsight in no way prepared me for the actual experience of 5 Rhythms. Of dancing in community, no choreography, no right or wrong way of doing it, just following the rhythms of the music and the body, dropping into the moment and following wherever it leads. Be. Here. Now.

I showed up for that first night’s introductory session expecting to sit in a circle and talk. HA! Instead, we danced. For hours, we danced and danced and danced. By the end of the evening, oh, my aching back! And knees, and hips, and feet. Indeed, I spent most of the weekend in a fair amount of physical pain, just trying to move through  it, to trust wherever it took me. At the same time, it was so liberating, nothing choreographed just moving to music and muscle and pulse. I am usually a shy dancer but this felt very different to me. By the end of the workshop I realized how important it had been for me—who is used to being an expert, in the know — to arrive on the dance floor with beginner’s mind, beginner’s body. By the end of the weekend, I walked away with this: The knowledge I brought was my own.

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Only after we had danced together for nearly two hours did we finally gather in a circle to introduce ourselves with words. It was a big group, twenty or so dancers, and others were more comfortable that I am working through their stuff in public. I gave my standard large-group introduction: “Hi, my name is Jennifer, I’m a recovering academic.” It’s a line that always gets a laugh but it also keeps me within my comfort zone.

At the end Kate said something that hit me close to the bone: “We have the right to amend our stories.”

I thought about how I had introduced myself, with an old story that not only keeps me in a comfort zone but also anchors me to the past. So much of that road trip, my journey, over the past two months had been about revisiting past haunts in order to reclaim what I had left behind or release that which no longer served me. Sitting in that circle, I realized it was time to amend my story.

I wrote in my journal the next morning: “I want, I need, a new story. One that’s not about recovering academic or body in pain or imploding life. Instead: Phoenix rising from the ashes. Snake shedding her skin. My name is Jennifer. I am a writer, an artist. A maker a doer a dreamer a wanderer a witch. A dancer. I am here. I am.”

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A dancer. I felt it the minute I stepped out onto the floor, the first stretch and crack of my toes. I was born to do this. We all are. To dream and learn and know through our bodies. Early bloomers, late bloomers – we all bring whatever we have, and I just have to trust that I wasn’t ready for this before but that what I bring now is impossibly beautiful and powerful. But part of what calls to me here is not about me at all; it’s about the collective, the energy in the room, all that each of us brings to the floor, the chamber the vortex the field.

On Saturday morning, our first full day of dancing together, I had the strangest experience…. I was on the dance floor thinking about the exchange of energy that was happening in the room between all these glorious sweating moving bodies and then in an instant, I shifted out of left brain and into right: I had a spooky sense that the boundaries were dissolving, the boundaries of our individual bodies blurred so that we were all intermingled, no longer separate, but just one big swirl of power and energy. Hello, quantum entanglement! And I was overcome by this huge wave of love and tenderness and trust for all that was in the room. And when I say huge, I mean drop to your knees and sob kind of huge. Which is exactly what I did: fall to my knees sobbing in this swirl of strangers that in a day, an instant, had become friends, comrades, lovers, partners, however fleeting, in this dance we call life. What a joy. What a gift….

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So much shifted for me that weekend. It was also that weekend that I discovered trapeze flying. Would that experience have been so magical, so empowering, had I not just spent those hours sweating and laughing and crying with those amazing humans….? I don’t think so.

Would I have had the guts to take a shot at speaking at the Float Conference, to create a 5-minute “audition” video in a single take, had I not experienced the quantum shift of the dance? I don’t think so.

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On our last day together Kenny, one of the other dancers, said something about dancing being our original way of worshipping the Earth.  Feet pounding the ground together  in beloved community, the ancients danced to take and return life energy to the earth, to La Tierra, to Pachamama. Yes. Oh, yes.

In the months since that workshop, 5 Rhythms dance has become a fundamental practice for me. Dancing, like floating, is my meditation and my church. Not the solitary sitting on a cushion, not the communal bowing of heads but the beat the throb the drum the dance.  The ecstatically embodied individual moving within the energetic collective. I and Thou and We.

So. Shall we dance?

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